There’s a whole host of plug-ins that are tailor-made for mastering these days, and you see a lot of debate around who uses what, and why. Which ones are the best? Multi-band compression or no? Should you even be mastering your own stuff anyway? Let’s go into a little depth on this one…
The first thing to address is probably the ‘self-mastering’ question. In general, and we’ve said this before, you should probably leave mastering to the professionals. But what if your tunes haven’t been signed yet, or are not yet mastered? You might still want to play them out in the club, send them to DJ’s, or simply present them in the most favourable light when sending a demo to labels. So it can certainly be useful to master your own stuff. And if you’re going to do that, you’ll want some good tools to do so.
Most mastering engineers largely use a combination of EQ, compression and limiting. And while your DAW probably came with plug-ins that do all these things, they won’t be designed specifically for mastering, which requires a subtly different set of qualities. So to get the best results, you should really be using a dedicated set of tools. But there are so many – which should you choose? Here’s a basic guide to some of the key contenders. Please note that this isn’t a definitive ‘best of’ – to be brutally honest, there is no such thing as a ‘best’ plug-in, because some tools simply work better for certain things than others – but these are some of the best in the game, and all of them will help you polish your tracks up to the level that you need!
These are some of the industry heavyweights, and deservedly so. The Oxford EQ is a five-band parametric, with four different types of curve, and it’s modelled on Sony’s classic OXFR3 mixing console. It’s long been regarded as one of the best EQ‘s out there, and is great for mastering or mixing. Get hold of this awesome EQ here!
The Oxford Inflator plug-in is something else entirely; Sonnox are coy about exactly how it works, but the upshot is that it makes things loud. Very loud. It manages to do this without compromising dynamics or punchiness, and is absolutely ideal for mixdowns where volume is a key aim. The Limiter is excellent too; very transparent, and comes with an ‘enhance’ function which adds something like tape saturation into the mix. These plugs are not cheap, but they are genuine professional standard kit. And that never does come cheap.
The Dynamix MB5 is a high-end multi-band compressor and dynamics processor. It can be used for limiting, compression, transient shaping and more, on all or any part of the frequency spectrum. It’s one of the most comprehensive of its kind on the market, and as such is arguably best used by those who know what they’re doing; the complexity means that you can get some incredible results, while it may put off the novice a touch. But for those who want this level of detail, it’s a very strong contenders.
The MB7, on the other hand, is a ‘multi-band mixer‘. It splits a signal into up to 7 frequency bands, and lets you mix them separately; adjust the volume, sidechain them, alter stereo wideness on some or all of them, group them together and so on. It’s quite a unique tool, and again, quite a complex one – but in the right hands it sounds superb, and producers will find many users other than just mastering – splitting up junglist basslines into separate strands for instance.
This is a long standing veteran of the PSP range, and it’s still highly popular today. The reason for that is that it’s a simple, easy to use, highly transparent compressor that sounds great whether it’s on a stereo output, a group channel, or just a normal mix channel. The fact that it’s so transparent is why it’s so popular for mastering; you can get a clean, loud sound out of it with minimal effort. On the other hand, it’s not a ‘character’ compressor – don’t expect to get any classic, vintage-sounding effects, or that ‘glue’ that everyone talks about. This compressor is about getting a clean, loud, punchy-sounding mix that doesn’t sound compressed. And it does that job superbly. Get hold of this legendary compressor here!
Ozone is the legendary mastering suite from Izotope and it’s now up to version 5. It’s very comprehensive; you get limiting, EQ, compression, mid/side processing, stereo imaging, reverb and more. It’s all highly accessible, works well, sounds great, and lets you go into as much scientific detail as you need. It’s fairly CPU intensive – as you might expect for something so big – but if your computer can handle it, it will be easily able to cover all your needs. It’s not often seen in professional mastering studios, but it still competes easily with some of the best plugs out there. And for the price – have you seen the price? Look at the price! – yes, it is almost certainly the best value mastering option on the market. Get hold of this amazing mastering suite here!
Check out Prime Plugins for more mastering plugins!